Introduction to the Primary Skate Skiing Techniques

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How many skate techniques are in your repertoire?

Related: Help us gather an international collection of Skate skiing technique names.

Most self-taught skate skiers use a single technique on all terrain – uphills, downhills, and flats – their technique never changes.

You could gather half a dozen expert skiers over a bottle of wine and get six different answers to the question, “How many skate skiing techniques are there?”

But most trained skiers would agree with this statement: There are 5 core skate techniques plus a variety of supplemental techniques for special circumstances such as sprinting, cornering and downhills.

If you’re one of the majority of skate skiers – at least here in North America – who doesn’t yet know all the skate techniques, the best thing you can do to improve your efficiency is to expand your skate skiing toolkit.

Introduction to Skate Skiing

(Note: This is the transcript from the above video.)

Skate skiing, which is sometimes called Free Technique, is one of two major disciplines of cross-country skiing. The other is called Classic skiing and it’s the more traditional style.

Skate skiing is done on wide, groomed trails, outside of the classic ski tracks. You can also skate ski on roller skis.

Rollerskiing is an excellent approximation of skate skiing. Credit: Fischer Sports GmbH

Roller skiing is an excellent approximation of skating on snow and a great option for enjoying the sport year round.

Aside from when you’re going straight downhill, skate skis are always positioned in a V-shape, with the tails closer together than the tips.

A skate skier uses the inside edge of the ski to push forward. The push with the ski is called a skate push, a kick, or a leg push – it all means the same thing.

The Five Primary Skate Techniques

Credits: Turtle by and Hare by Ludovic Riffault. Both from the Noun Project.

Trained skate skiers have a large repertoire of techniques to use in different situations.  Ski techniques are like gears on a bike. You switch between techniques as your speed changes.

You can enjoy an enormous improvement in efficiency just by learning the full range of techniques and understanding how each technique is modified in different situations.

Next I’ll give you a quick video rundown of the five primary skate skiing techniques and explain how they fit on the speed continuum.

We have videos courses where one of my partners, Chris Jeffries, who’s a Canadian National level High Performance Director and former Olympian, explains, in-depth, the mechanics of each technique as demonstrated by Canadian National Team athletes. You can visit XC Ski if you’d like to learn more.

Diagonal Skate

So the first technique on the spectrum is Diagonal Skate. It’s an uphill technique that’s great to know when you’re getting started, but becomes less relevant as your skills improve.


Instead, you’ll use Offset to climb hills more efficiently. You can identify Offset by the staggered arm position and the way the two poles plant at the same time as one ski.

One Skate

Next in the lineup, is One Skate. A few years ago it would have been considered best suited to flats and gentle hills, but the trend at the moment is to use it increasingly on uphills as well.

Two Skate

Once you’re moving too fast for One Skate it’s time for Two Skate. Two Skate is a good technique for after you’ve built up speed on the flats or are skiing down a gradual slope.

Free Skate

Free Skate is the last of the five core techniques. It’s good for when you’re moving too fast to use your poles.

So, to recap, Skate techniques generally work like this: Two Skate is used at high speeds, such as on flats and slight downhills.

One Skate is the most versatile technique and can be used on flats, gentle downhills, and, depending on your strength and skill, even on uphills.

Free Skate is the highest speed technique for when you’re moving too fast to use your poles.

Offset is the primary uphill technique. Diagonal Skate is also an uphill technique and can be a real lifesaver for getting up hills without completely flat lining.

Learn them all, but these two are used most often

Credits: Turtle by and Hare by Ludovic Riffault. Both from the Noun Project.

You should aim to be competent in every skate technique, but in terms of usage, Offset and One Skate are most used and should be your primary focus, especially in your early days.

Don’t get stuck in single track thinking

The final thing I want to mention is that it’s best to avoid thinking in absolutes when it comes to cross-country skiing techniques. Many of the features of technique are adjustable.

When you look at a video of an expert skier or a ski race, keep in mind that most aspects of technique are influenced by the snow conditions, terrain and the skier’s objectives.

On top of that, ski techniques follow trends and evolve over time.

There’s enough nuance in this sport to keep it interesting and challenging for a lifetime. And all that just adds to the enjoyment and pleasure of skate skiing.

Want to help with our International collection of Skate skiing technique names?

4 thoughts on “Introduction to the Primary Skate Skiing Techniques”

    • Hey Andrea – are you sure you are “rocking” Offset and Two Skate? They are very different techniques, even though they both have poling only on one side (pole push every other leg push). Most self-taught skiers use a homemade technique that is a blend of Offset and Two Skate, but really is neither.


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